Driving Innovation: Overcoming Hurdles

This spring the new CoSN project, “Driving K-12 Innovation,” started to develop. A team of over 100 educators from around the globe began to address the first key element: Hurdles. I’m part of the team of advisers who are identifying the Hurdles – “obstacles that make participants slow down, evaluate, practice and then make the leap to better support teaching and learning.”

Hurdles that the team of advisors are addressing include: Scaling and Sustaining Innovation, Changing the Perception of Teachers who are Reluctant Technology Users, Humanizing Online Learning, Digital Fluency, Developing Non-Cognitive Skills, Evolution of Teaching, Ongoing Professional Development, Inadequate Resources, Remaining Relevant, Pedagogy vs. Technology Gap, Digital Equity.

In the first phase advisers are attempting to define each Hurdle so there’s common language. In addition, each adviser ranks each Hurdle on how surmountable the challenge for overcoming the obstacles, outlines what might happen if the Hurdle is not address, identifies how the Hurdle manifests itself in schools today, and a details a plan of action to overcome the Hurdle.

Soon the advisers will be challenged to identify the five main Hurdles. It will be interesting to see how educators from around the globe pinpoint the common Hurdles. I’ve discerned over the last decade a more common focus in schools. In September I’ll travel with a CoSN delegation to Norway and Finland to investigate the educational technology landscape. I’ll be quite interested to see how educators in these two Scandinavian countries look at the Hurdles that are identified by the CoSN team.

Can Micro-Credentials Create More Meaningful Professional Development?

[I serve as the co-chair of the Emerging Technologies committee for the Consortium of Schools Networked (C0SN). For the spring Edtech Next report we’re looking at Micro-Credentials and Digital Badging. Mindshift highlights in this article a number of schools/district across the United States that are using some form of micro-credentialing. The largest project is a partnership between the Digital Promise and Bloomboard. In the next year you’ll be hearing more about this micro-learning approach. It’s not only beneficial for staff members, but also has potential for all learners. Here in the Pittsburgh area schools like Holy Family Academy and Avonworth are taking a lead using Micro-credentials for student and staff learning.]


Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Learning science says people learn best when they apply new information to their own contexts. When learners can make mistakes, reflect on new strategies, get feedback, and try again they gain a deeper understanding of the topic. But these elements are rarely applied to professional development.  School districts spend a lot of money on trainings for educators, but the returns on that investment are not always clear.  Many teachers say that even when the professional development is interesting — not always a given — they often feel like it’s one more thing to do in an already jampacked academic schedule. While educators around the country are slowly adopting various approaches that allow them to better differentiate learning for students, the same is rarely true for the adult learners in the system.

In order to help teachers learn and and become proficient in relevant skills, a nascent movement of nonprofits, states, districts and educators are exploring what a competency-based professional learning system could look like using micro-credentials. Digital Promise, a nonprofit with a mission of “accelerating innovation in education,” has been a strong proponent of micro-credentials, describing them as competency-based, on-demand, personalized and shareable.

Read more…


CoSN Conference: Day 2

This year’s theme for the CoSN Conference was “Reimagine Learning.” It was only appropriate that the closing Plenary session ignited new visions for learning.  CoSN invited four very different experts to share their thoughts and vision for what learning can be today.

John Seely Brown

After an initial technical difficulty with the audio connection for this web-based visit, John shared his vision for the “entrepreneurial learner.” John explained that this new learner has three key qualities – curiosity, questing, and connecting. These are dispositions that cannot be taught, but can be nurtured or cultivated. Curiosity is about pulling information as needed; Questing is about seeking, probing or uncovering information; Connecting is about listening and engaging others. To make his point John told the story of the Grommets, a surfing group in Maui who became world-class surfers. Their story demonstrated what learning can be:

  • Passion to achieve extreme performance with a willingness to take risks and fail in order to succeed;
  • Using skills of analysis to discern the best moves and to evaluate their own performances;
  • Pulling ideas from “adjacenies” – other sports like wind-surfing or motor cross;
  • Leveraging other networks and resources;
  • Collaborating and competing with each other.

In John’s view key to dealing with a world of constant change is to maintain a sense of play. This proved to be a perfect transition to the next speaker, Nichole Pinkard, head of the Digital Youth Network in Chicago.

Nichole focused on the role of the library as a node on a continuum of involvement. Schools are another node. She shared the success story for the creation of a new learning space in the main Chicago library. Technology, alone, is not a solution. Technology serves a tool, an enhancer for a variety of learning opportunities, such as social networking. The design purposefully created three spaces – a large group area (Hanging Out), a small group area (Messing Around), and a place to research and find information (Geeking Out). In addition to the library, Nichole shared a story about a turnaround project for performing poetry, the Lyracist Loft. Key to the success of this project was the ability to create an environment of sharing, competing, and performing.

Arana Shapiro

Arana worked on the development of the Quest to Learn school in New York City. The school currently includes grades 6, 7, and 8. Each year another grade will be added until the program covers 6-12. The school came out of a vision to make learning irresistible for young learners and use game principles to create a game-like learning environment. The process has a three step process:

  1. Start with a complex problem – the Mission
  2. Undergo a series of challenges – the Quest
  3. Solve the initial problem or mission

Underlying the school environment are a number of gaming elements:

  • An immersive environment for role-playing;
  • An interconnected environment that generates system thinking;
  • Challenges that are not too easy or too difficult based on the learner’s skill level;
  • Immediate and ongoing feedback.

Within each challenge there is ongoing embedded assessment. The program focuses on not just playing, but creating.

Travis Allen added the possibilities for mobile learning. Travis, a young man still in college, outlined his personal path to creating the iSchool Initiative. Beginning as a teenager Travis saw opportunities to make his ideas profitable. In 2009 he received a Smartphone and realized that mobile learning was the future. He created a student-led non-profit that primarily uses YouTube videos to share its vision. The organization delivers workshops focusing on “Find, Filter, and Apply.” The organization will host a conference for educators with students leading the way. Travis worked with Kearns High School to create a mobile project that changed student engagement, increased reading outside of class, and improved the graduation rate. Today Travis and his team are reaching out to people around the globe. He recently returned from Spain and earlier in the year went to Tanzania. According to Travis there are three things necessary to shape the future:

  • Work hard and fail as much as necessary to learn;
  • A Love of Learning leads to a life of significance;
  • LEAD the way.

Bailey Mitchell, the Chairman of the CoSN Board and the CTO for Forsyth County Schools in Georgia wrapped up the conference. Bailey emphasized the need to reinvent learning. He proposed that the participants from the conference should take the ideas they heard or discovered with them. Bailey highlighted the importance of making connections, learning from consumer models to personalize learning, and to scale ideas around collaboration and student choice. He recommended that Chief Technology Officers (CTO) should take on five critical roles

  • Advocate
  • Relationshop Architect
  • Venture Capitalist
  • Information Steward
  • Lobbyist